Misuse of migrants 'hollowing out' telco talent

Foreign services companies are using migrants to drive down wages, local company alleges

Migrant labour is being misused to drive down wages paid in the telecommunications sector, claims one industry participant.

The telecommunications services industry may soon become totally reliant on imported labour, services company TransWorks claims in a submission (pdf) to Ministry of Economic Development.

Managing director Mike Paltridge says the industry is dominated by two companies, Downers Engineering and Transfield Services, both of which are overseas owned.

“If either decided to exit New Zealand, there is no one big enough left to pick it up easily,” he told Computerworld. “The smart thing is to rebuild this industry. The government should open up some work to third parties and not keep it locked up.”

The submission notes that both Downers and Transfield are accredited employers for the purposes of sourcing staff directly from overseas. From January 2003 to September 2007, 814 work applications for telecommunication technicians were approved.

Paltridge estimates there are around 1000 employees in the sector, with Downers and Transfield each employing around 300.

Comparative figures sourced from the national employers 2007 wage and salary survey show telecommunications technicians are paid far less than their counterparts in other areas of the industry. An electronics technician earned $23.76 an hour, and a computer systems technician $24.56 an hour; the typical wage rates for telecommunications technicians at service companies ranged from $16 an hour to $22 an hour.

Specifically, Telecom technicians have not had a pay increase since their last collective agreement was negotiated in 1998.

Last July, the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union’s ElectroComms industry council called for the government to crack down on what it said was the widespread misuse of migrant labour to exploit local and immigrant lines workers.

The council said companies across the industry were keeping wages and conditions for local and migrant lines workers in check by misusing systems designed to cover skills shortages.

Paltridge says in his submission that Downers and Transfield had rejected suggestions from Telecom project managers that they subcontract work to other, smaller companies. Instead, they had approached the Immigration Department requesting dispensation to bring foreign nationals into New Zealand as technical staff.

“We are dominated by the two,” he told Computerworld. “Between them and Telecom driving down costs, it’s having a dramatic affect on the industry.”

In TransWorks submission, Paltridge says the separation offers an opportunity to revitalise and re-invest in the service industry.

Neither Downers nor Transfield responded to calls from Computerworld.

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